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6-Step Walking Plan for Diabetes

People with diabetes can benefit from a healthy walking exercise plan. Start with these simple steps.

Walking is one of the easiest, low-impact exercises you can do. An exercise walking plan can help you get fit, feel more energized, and reach fitness goals.

Experts, including our own Mike Roizen, MD, and Mehmet Oz, MD, encourage people to walk 10,000 steps a day for optimal health and fitness. This is equivalent to walking about 5 miles. One study found walking that distance improved both cardiovascular fitness and blood sugar levels.

For people with diabetes, walking just 30 minutes every day can improve glucose control and help muscles absorb sugar. Walking for fitness also can help people at risk for diabetes maintain a healthy weight, improve cholesterol, and lower their risk.

The health benefits of walking are countless, so what are you waiting for? Use these simple steps to create your walking exercise plan:

Step 1: Cover the basics. You don't need much to get out the door and start walking, but it's important to consider a few things. First, be sure you have the right shoes. Proper walking shoes make a big difference for comfort, endurance, and injury prevention. Next, set a goal. "Realistic goals are the key to any program," says walking expert and WalkingResource.com founder, Jeff Salvage. Your goal can be a distance, a target weight, or the number of times you want to walk each week. Finally, be sure to get your doctor's approval to address any health concerns.

Step 2: Start slow. If you've been sedentary, start slowly. "Building up gradually is key," says Salvage. For the first six weeks, try to walk 3,000 steps a day. Over time, increase how many steps you take during each walk. "Slow progress really starts to mount," says Salvage. "Think about it like putting a little money in a savings account. It all adds up."

Step 3: Watch your form. Keep your body upright and watch your posture. To improve your posture, Salvage suggests doing core-strengthening exercises. "Look at walking as part of a larger health activity and include core exercises to straighten you up," Salvage says. Look straight ahead and relax your shoulders. Keep your stride comfortable and go at your own pace. As walking for fitness becomes more natural and familiar, your feet will move more easily from heel to toe. If you want a more vigorous workout, Salvage suggests bending your arms at 90-degree angles and swinging them back and forth. This increases your calorie burn and helps propel you forward.

Step 4: Track your progress. "You should always keep some kind of log of everything that you do," says Salvage. He encourages walkers to write down how they feel, how far they walk, how long they walk, and the level of walking intensity. You can invest in a pedometer to track your steps. One pedometer perk is that it can motivate you to walk even more. Pick a model with an easy-to-read display and a sturdy clip. You can also use smart phone apps that monitor distance and calories burned, or simply keep a handwritten log or journal.

Step 5: Watch what you eat. Nutrition is often part of a walking exercise plan people overlook. Stick to whole foods and unprocessed foods. Lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all healthy nutrition options. "The calories that you eat do matter," says Salvage. "If you combine walking with the right fuels, you'll lose weight and feel better." Proper fuel will also keep your energy up. People with diabetes need to pay special attention to their nutrition. Consult your doctor or a registered dietitian for specific meal plans and advice.

Step 6: Get support. To make your walking exercise plan stick, you'll need to stay motivated. Find support from family and friends. "Motivation is everyone's challenge," says Salvage. "You can put up positive affirmations, but there's nothing like having someone to motivate you. You're letting someone down if you don't get out the door -- and it's not just about you."

Eventually your daily walks will become a habit you look forward to each day. Happy walking!

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